Category Archives: Video Games

Did You Know? – Retro BattleTech Games, “The Crescent Hawks’ Inception”

 

Welcome back to Did You Know?, the Sarna feature where we take a look at some of the more obscure corners of BattleTech history. We’re kicking off a series on retro video games, and what could possibly be more retro than the very first BattleTech computer game than BattleTech: The Crescent Hawks’ Inception?

Originally released in 1988, this bad boy was made for the original Commodore 64. I’m not nearly old enough to remember these ancient personal computers, but if they’re anything like the Nintendo 64, it must’ve been revolutionary for its time.

To get this game to function on a modern computer would require running a virtual machine on Windows and possibly some light computer engineering knowledge that I simply don’t have the time or inclination to learn. Luckily, we live in the age of the internet, and no matter how old or obscure the game, someone has done a Let’s Play series about it on YouTube.

We have MrTatteredRags to thank for this lovely Let’s Play that goes from beginning to end of The Crescent Hawks’ Inception, which I will henceforth shorten to simply CHI. Produced by Westwood Associates (the developer that would eventually become the legendary Westwood Studios of Command & Conquer fame) CHI followed the standard format for most Infocom games at the time–that being a text-based adventure game with a few basic animations and the most god-awful sound effects possible.

Just take a few moments to experience the game’s opening. This is bad, even by 1988 standards.

Full disclosure: I’ve experienced text-based adventure games before, but they were usually only in the form of a brief joke scene in a more modern game. The only game I’ve ever played that took the genre seriously was Space Ranger, a Russian top-down space adventure game that mixes RTS and RPG elements as well as the aforementioned text adventure portion.

Frankly, I don’t know how anyone can endure an entire game that’s just wandering around Legend of Zelda-style until you have to do some light reading and option selection, but the late ‘80s were a vastly different time for gaming.

In CHI, you play as Jason Youngblood, a young military cadet on the Steiner planet of Pacifica (aka Chara III). You’re the son of war her Jeremiah Youngblood, the Lyran HQ’s security chief and someone who oddly has the ear of Archon Katrina Steiner.

Crescent Hawk 4

He’ll soon die and leave you in charge of a guerrilla campaign to overthrow invaders from the Draconis Combine, but before then you’re just a cadet in training. So you can wander around and do some training missions to learn how to use guns, rifles, and even a bow and arrow.

Learning how to use a bow and arrow seems oddly low-tech in the world of BattleTech, but again, it was the ‘80s. You weren’t a warrior until you learned how to kill a man with a bow and arrow.

You can also go on training missions in ‘Mechs–ostensibly the whole reason why you’re there. Your choice of machine is either a Locust, Wasp, or the rarely seen Chameleon. There’s little to say for the animation of any particular ‘Mech with the 8-bit designs basically getting the overall outline correct without providing much detail.

Crescent Hawk 3

Eventually on one of your training missions, the Draconis Combine invades, destroys the training academy, and leaves you alone to assemble a crack team of Drac-fighting commandos including a ‘Mech tech, a field nurse, and even a former Kell Hound. This is when the game really picks up and where your earlier training determines how easy you find the game’s remaining tasks.

It turns out that the Dracs are on Pacifica to raid an old Star League-era weapons depot that your father discovered while stationed here. You also find out that your father was actually the commander of an elite covert operations team called the Crescent Hawks, and as you wander around Pacifica gathering allies you adopt your father’s unit name and assume command.

I guess “cadet” makes you the ranking officer on planet?

There are a lot of holes like this in the general plot of the game. Apparently the Crescent Hawks are also somehow related to the Kell Hounds (because almost everything good and noble in the Lyran Commonwealth is related to that mercenary company) and the Crescent Hawks were given carte blanche from Katrina Steiner herself to operate as an independent military unit.

Crescent Hawk 5

Another thing I found somewhat odd was how everything in the game costs C-bills. That’s fine, Lyrans are merchants after all, but you’d think being a guerrilla group operating on a recently invaded planet that the locals might be a bit more eager to help out with donations.

Perhaps the greatest sin this game makes, however, is how it ends with such an obvious setup for the sequel (SPOILER ALERT!). You barely resolve anything: Jason locates the Star League-era cache, finds his dad’s ‘Mech (a PHX-HK2 Phoenix Hawk LAM of all things), and you escape the planet via dropship with a communique direct from Katrina offering you a commission in the Lyran Armed Forces.

Phoenix Hawk LAM

But no, you refuse her offer to go looking for your father, who must surely still be alive since you found his ‘Mech (I know there are other reasons too, but that was the big “payoff” near the end-game).

As much as the whole game reads as BattleTech fan-fiction rather than anything even remotely approaching canon, it seems that Crescent Hawks’ Inception was well received by the fan base. So well received that it became written into canon in subsequent official publications from FASA.

Personally, I think that CHI got a lot of goodwill simply because it was the first of its kind. Looking at it with the critical eye of someone who came of age during the days of MechWarrior 2, the plot was flimsy and at times nonsensical, the sound effects were either hilarious or nonexistent, and the game’s visuals were what I’d imagine a coked-out pixel artist’s rendition of Robotech would look like.

On the plus side, CHI needed to happen in order for every other BattleTech game to come after it. Plus, the Phoenix Hawk LAM is always pretty cool.

I give it two stars out of five.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

BattleTech Tips And Tools Of The Trade

Centurion

I’ve now clocked in a solid 100 hours in BattleTech, with my latest run being focused on using what I’ve learned from my previous character to run through the plot in an ideal way. No lack of ‘Mechs, pilots, or components will mar my perfect experience. I’ll always get the ‘Mech I want, and I even went so far as to mod the game so I started off with a bespoke lance consisting of a Firestarter, Jenner, Shadow Hawk SHD-2D, and a Griffin GRS-1S.

That was just so I could have a slightly different experience than my previous playthrough. Since everything is randomized, all ‘Mechs after the first few missions will always be different outside of the story missions, so I didn’t have any concerns about boredom after I got started.

But now that I’ve achieved what I’d like to consider as “veteran” status in the game, I felt it right that I bestow upon you, dear Sarna reader, some of the tips I’ve learned in my career as a mercenary lance commander.

Locust

To start, I’ve always found that grinding out a bunch of easy missions early on will make the tougher missions that much easier for you later. The reason here is that grinding simple missions gives you XP that will make your pilots better. Once a pilot reaches certain milestones they get a huge power boost which can help turn the tide of a battle in your favor.

“Being able to move and shoot first is huge.”

One thing I’ve found to be a huge boon is the Master Tactician skill. Found under the Tactics tree at level 8, it allows your ‘Mechs to move at a higher initiative. This means that Assault ‘Mechs move at the same time as Heavy ‘Mechs, Heavies move at the same time as Mediums, and Medium ‘Mechs move at the same time as Lights.

Being able to move and shoot first is huge. If you can take out a few dangerous opponents before they have a chance to fire it will allow you to take on waves of opponents that would seem impossible to defeat on paper.

Master Tactician will always come with Sensor Lock as a secondary skill, which leaves tertiary skill to choose. I like to have a mix of Bulwark, Evasive Movement, and Multi-Target for my pilots. Bulwark is good for heavies and assaults to belly up to the line and face-tank whatever the enemy throws at them, while Evasive Movement is great for scouts and fast-movers. Multi-Target is better for missions with a lot of soft targets such as tanks or structures, but it can be difficult to predict if a mission will throw a swarm of Galleons at you or not.

Spider

What ‘Mechs you use is far more dependant on what ‘Mechs you fight than anything else (unless you want to mod the game as I did), but there are a few to keep an eye out for thanks to their weapon-efficient loadouts.

The Shadow Hawk SHD-2D is a personal favorite. You can load it up with 1,000 armor, 3 Medium Lasers, 2 SRM-6s, and 2 Small Lasers to turn it into a tough and deadly brawler. For whatever reason, the Shadow Hawk deals increased melee damage compared to other Medium ‘Mechs–closer to a 70-ton Heavy–so it’s the perfect design to get up close and personal with.

Light ‘Mechs eventually become too poorly armored to use later in the game (although I’ve heard some skilled commanders have beaten the game entirely with Light ‘Mechs), but the Firestarter is another close-range brawler that is utterly terrifying. Keep the Flamers or swap them for a battery of Small Lasers, and either way, once it gets in close whatever it’s fighting is dead.

The Shadow Hawk SHD-2D is the perfect design to get up close and personal with.

The Orion is relatively common and can be customized to be almost anything: a close-range brawler, a long-range sniper, or even a missile boat. In the Assault category, I came across quite a few Highlanders in my first playthrough and found them all to be equally amazing.

Short Range Missiles are, ton for ton, the most weight-efficient way of dealing damage. Before the latest patch they were utterly devastating when combined with Precision Strike, the ability that allows you to use morale to target specific components, but since then their ability to core a ‘Mech in a single salvo has diminished somewhat. Still, they’re potent, and a personal favorite of mine.

Laser boats were previously too hot to be effective, but the patch has also lowered the heat cost of Large Lasers to the point where they might be usable. I’ll have to do more testing, but I’m looking forward to finding a Black Knight or a Grasshopper to test it out.

If you can find a PPC+++ then they might be worth using, but generally I found them to generate too much heat for too little damage to be of much use.

Long range weapons aren’t really all that great in BattleTech thanks to a fog of war that reduces visibility to barely a few meters in front of you. If you feel you must take something with some range, Long Range Missiles are your best bet. They can fire over obstacles to soften your opponents up, and they deal a ton of stability damage with the right mods.

Autocannons are certainly better balanced in this game than on the tabletop, but they’re still not efficient enough in terms of damage per ton to compare with lasers and SRMs. On Assault ‘Mechs it’s not so big a deal since they have tonnage to spare, but on Medium and Heavy ‘Mechs, it’s strictly worse than a loadout weighted toward missiles and lasers.

One last thing: the key to success in BattleTech is using your Precision Strike and Vigilance abilities to their fullest. This means that opting for some increase morale upgrades in the early game might be even more important than faster repairs or healing in the med bay. Just have a team of 8 or more pilots and swap them out when they get a little banged up.

A veteran I may be, but I’m still far from a BattleTech expert. Think you might be one? Then submit your tips and tricks in the comment section below to prove it!

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.  

stay syrupy

Harmony Gold And Piranha Games Lawsuit Has Been “Resolved”

Atlas Punch

Harmony Gold’s lawsuit against BattleTech and it’s various creators looks to finally be over. And this time, just maybe, it’s over for good.

Piranha Games President Russ Bullock took to the MechWarrior Online forums to make an official announcement on the settlement between PGI and Harmony Gold. He was necessarily brief with his words as the exact details of the settlement were not disclosed. However, he was able to offer this approved wording:

“Harmony Gold and Piranha Games are delighted to announce that they have ended their dispute. Piranha Games will continue to use the “classic” BattleTech designs and Harmony Gold and Piranha Games look forward to continuing to serve their respective fans and customers.”

Standard disclaimer: I’m no lawyer, but this seems like a win. It essentially means that Piranha Games can continue to use the Unseen ‘Mech designs currently in MechWarrior Online, and likely can put a few into the upcoming MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries as well. 

Thanks to the kind folks over at the BattleTech subreddit, we also have a copy of the court documents for people to verify with more legally-trained eyes.

Robotech courtesy of Mecha Talk

courtesy of Mecha Talk

Note the use of “dismissal with prejudice” in the court docs. This means that whatever terms were agreed upon for the settlement, Harmony Gold cannot bring the same case before the courts again. In order to sue PGI they’d have to convince a judge that the new case isn’t the same as the old one, which would probably be a very tough thing to do after all this litigation.

And even if Harmony Gold convinced a judge that there’s a new case to argue, they’d still be right back where we last left them before the settlement: with PGI arguing that Harmony Gold doesn’t even own the copyrights and can’t sue as a result.

That’s not to say that a new lawsuit isn’t impossible. We don’t know the terms of the settlement, so whatever deal they worked out might only be for the current generation of games. A new game, say BattleTech 2 or MechWarrior 6, might not be protected by this settlement (if Unseen designs are used) and be subject to another lawsuit.

Another big deal is that this settlement drops the claims against everyone, including Catalyst Game Labs. We no longer have to worry about HG shutting down the tabletop side of things just because of a dispute in the virtual world of video games.

Now, there’s a lot of debate over on the official BattleTech forums about what suddenly brought this case to a settlement when PGI seemed like they were all-in on their arguments against Harmony Gold. Maybe HG managed to get that letter rogatory from Big West authorizing them to defend copyrights that they owned? Or maybe there was something even bigger hidden in HG’s arsenal that we might never know about.

All we can say for sure is that this looks to be the end of the road for this current spat of legal issues for now, and maybe, hopefully, forever.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

MechWarrior 5 Delayed Until 2019

courtesy of mw5mercs.com

courtesy of mw5mercs.com

MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries has been delayed until 2019.

The news comes straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, with Piranha Games President Russ Bullock making the announcement on his Twitter page.

The move to delay seems to acknowledge the responsibility PGI feels in bringing the “the first single player experience MechWarrior title released since 2002″ to a competitive market. Delaying until 2019 will allow them to deliver the best single-player MechWarrior experience to date” and ensure MechWarrior 5 lives up to the high standards set by modern ‘Mech games.

As much as many a salty MechWarrior Online fan might see this as an indication that their previous online-only ‘Mech game is finally fizzling out, this is probably not the case. MechWarrior Online doesn’t publish it’s player counts, but Steam Charts has given the average number of Steam players at around 2,000 for years now, with undoubtedly thousands more simply playing directly via the MWO Portal.

What is far more likely is PGI’s understanding that a single-player game like MechWarrior 5 will need to be done right in order to capture the imagination of not just MechWarrior fans but also sci-fi sim-shooter fans in general. They’ve got their eyes set on a much larger prize than just the BattleTech faithful, and more power to them.

I got a very brief taste of MW5 at Mech_Con last year and it was… rough. Granted, it was a pre-alpha build that had been running on the same rig for most of the day, but it definitely suffered from lost frames and performance issues. It was also just a brief rampage through an enemy base without anything along the lines of an actual plot.

You can bet that story, level design, and all the trappings of a real single-player game are going to become a renewed focus for the developers with the extra time they’ve just given themselves.

courtesy of mw5mercs.com

courtesy of mw5mercs.com

Bullock confirmed in a response to a follower’s tweet that the delay has absolutely nothing to do with the ongoing legal issues between PGI and the despicable Harmony Gold. I might be reading a little between the lines (or letters, in this case), but my bet is this is all strictly so that the developers can make a better game.

Most of the responses on Twitter were positive, appreciating the move for quality over a rush-job. To be frank, I’m of the same mind here. Nothing annoys me more than a game I’ve waited to play for years only to find it delivered as a heaping pile of digital manure. That’s what PGI is afraid of, and rightly so.

We’ll get a better idea of when MechWarrior 5 will release at this year’s Mech_Con.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

Harmony Gold and Piranha Games Have Settled – Probably

Harmony Gold and Piranha Games have settled according to recently filed court documents.

Unlike last time when Harebrained Schemes had their case with HG dismissed two months ago, we’re going to keep our champagne bottles firmly corked and the confetti safely ensconced in whatever container confetti is normally ensconced in (I don’t actually know anything about confetti–is it a tin? A can?).

According to court documents filed in Washington District Court on June 7th, MechWarrior Online creators Piranha Games have reached a settlement agreement with hated patent trolls, Harmony Gold.

“Plaintiff Harmony Gold U.S.A., Inc. (‘Harmony Gold’) and Defendant Piranha Games Inc. (‘Piranha’) have agreed to a settlement in principle of this case,” the document reads, “but need time to prepare the written settlement documents.”

The motion goes on to state that if things fall apart then the case will proceed as it had previously.

As for what that settlement might entail, that we don’t know. And we may never know–legal settlements are often subject to non-disclosure agreements that will prevent us from ever knowing for sure if Harmony Gold will rear their ugly heads to rain on our parade.

BUT, and I say this as a non-lawyer with absolutely no background to draw from (sorry, our resident lawyer is on vacation and wasn’t able to comment as of the time of this writing), it seems likely that PGI paid off Harmony Gold with a stipulation that they cannot come after them for their upcoming game, MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries.

Unless the settlement details get disclosed the only way to tell is to wait and see what ‘Mechs Piranha Games opts to put in their upcoming single-player MechWarrior game. If there’s no Marauders, Warhammers, or Riflemen, then we’ll have our answer.

On the plus side, the Shadow Hawk, Griffin, and many more Unseen ‘Mechs are still present in Harebrained’s BattleTech, so we know that whatever settlement they reached in April didn’t take those iconic ‘Mechs away for good.

We’ll be sure to keep you up to date as we get more info.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

The Succession Wars and so much more…

Way back in August 2013 we featured an article on Scrapyard Armory’s Succession Wars online game. With the surge in popularity of BattleTech both in virtual and physical formats we thought now was a good time to revisit this great game.

Based on the 1987 table top board game by FASA, Scrapyard Armory’s Succession Wars recreates the struggles of the five Great Houses in an online multiplayer environment. Players take control of the Great Houses and fight, negotiate and backstab their way to domination over the entire Inner Sphere. The board game featured two scenarios: the primary one is set in 3025, around the time of the 4th Succession War, with an alternate set at the outbreak of the 1st Succession War in 2786. Both of these scenarios have been lovingly recreated.

Since our last article the community at Scrapyard Armory has grown considerably and a team of content creators have expanded the free, playable scenarios (also called Orders of Battle) to phenomenal levels. Now you can play games ranging through the BattleTech timeline from 2550 to 3145. Custom maps for many of these games let you recreate The Age of War, the rise and the fall of the Star League, The Clans: Operation Klondike (a 2 player scenario), the 1st, 2nd and 4th Succession Wars, the Clan Invasion, the rise of the Word of Blake, and on to the Renaissance of 3145.

One of SYA’s content creators and a six-year veteran of the site, ‘Jimmy the Tulip’, spoke to us about creating Succession Wars scenarios. “What I love about what Scrapyard Armory has developed here is the flexibility to really get in and create something in incredible detail. The ability to create new maps, adding units and leaders and coming up with new ways of using the game mechanics to make something truly unique keeps me coming up with new ideas.”

Jimmy went on to talk about playing the games. “The tension can really be palpable at times, especially when you have a group all online simultaneously. Even when you’re waiting for actions to be taken you can study the map, think about strategies for taking out your opponents and really delve into what makes grand scale strategic games great. I’ve made some great friends while playing this game too. The community is fantastic.”

With a total of 19 different scenarios currently live (and more in development) Scrapyard Armory’s Succession Wars offers an immersion into the BattleTech universe in unprecedented fashion. There is a small amount of variation in the rules from the original board game in order to better facilitate the online nature of the game but, aside from that, the games play true to the nature and feel of its originator. The Development Team continues to work on ironing out the occasional bug and has provided a wide array of Orders of Battle and game options, including custom cards, the ability to play with Battle Armor units and over-size JumpShips, to provide nearly limitless replayability. A small team of Admins are also active to assist new players and veterans alike.

If you haven’t already signed up, run on over and check them out at Succession Wars. Join in one of the many games on offer or, if you’re bold, create a game of your own and take on the community there. Remember…. No guts, no galaxy!

MechWarrior Online World Championship Tournament Announced With Stock ‘Mech Restriction

courtesy of mechwarrior.com

courtesy of mechwarrior.com

The MechWarrior Online World Championship tournament has just been announced with a surprise twist.

Stock ‘Mechs. That’s right: rather than taking out the highly customized, tuned, and optimal loadouts that all these pro-MechWarriors are used to, they’ll be confined to using the as-stock weapons, ammo, and armor that you can find on any of the old TRO’s.

PGI announced their latest iteration of the MechWarrior Online World Championship tournament on Twitter, with CEO Russ Bullock writing that the team “wanted to do something different” when it came to this year’s competition. That difference evidently being to lock everyone into using the configuration that most ‘Mechs came in as they were originally purchased.

I say “most” since that’s not the only restriction. The tournament has been limited to Inner Sphere-only technology circa 3039, with PGI providing a list of eligible ‘Mechs and variants on their MWOWC rules page.

courtesy of mechwarrior.com

courtesy of mechwarrior.com

Teams are comprised of 8 players, just as last year, with no team being able to field more than three ‘Mechs in any given weight class. Also, no duplicate chassis are allowed, so if someone takes a Wolfhound then nobody else on that team will be able to. Quirks, skill points, and consumables will all be as normal.

The stock-class restriction was quick to draw both criticism and praise from the MechWarrior Online community. Many professional players lamented the fact that stock-class ‘Mechs are perhaps even less balanced than the current metagame present at the highest levels of competitive play. Most competitive builds are mission-focused to bring down opposing ‘Mechs, but stock builds are made for the larger BattleTech lore, which often pits ‘Mechs against other opponents such as infantry, tanks, and AeroSpace Fighters. Those sub-optimal chassis are likely to be overlooked entirely as competitive teams scramble to find the best anti-’Mech chassis available.

However, stock-class tournaments aren’t entirely new to MechWarrior Online, with many beer-league teams playing in such casual tournaments throughout the year. Those MechWarriors may be encouraged to give the competitive scene a try with these new rules and restrictions.

But while the unrestricted MWO strives for balance among all ‘Mechs (with varying levels of success), stock ‘Mechs were never designed to be equal. There will be clear winners and losers in the list that PGI has provided. For example, I think it highly unlikely that the stock Locust will see any amount of play. The stock version has virtually no armor, and without the benefit of 3050s-era weight-saving technology to give it a larger engine, it runs too slow to dodge any shots.

There’s also some clear winners on the list. The Wolfhound was already a favorite among pro-players, and the stock loadout of four Medium Lasers and one Large Laser is essentially a viable laser-vomit build even unmodified. It will certainly be much slower than we’re used to seeing on the competitive stage, and it will run vastly hotter thanks to single heat sinks, but as a light ‘Mech, it seems like the best of the bunch.

Other laser-vomit builds, such as the Crab, the Grasshopper, and Black Knight are also likely to be popular as they’ll allow for pinpoint damage without needing to worry about ammunition. Another possible ‘Mech to watch out for is the Archer. Without AMS or ECM to provide protection, LRM-boats such as the Archer could spell a quick death for any light ‘Mechs caught out of position, especially since those light ‘Mechs will be moving far slower due to a lack of XL engines.

As for assault ‘Mechs, the King Crab is likely to be popular, but with only two tons of ammunition split between either torso, each powerful AC/20 will only have 7 shots to connect with. Professional players are good, but even the pros might not be able to make 7 shots work in the long run.

courtesy of mechwarrior.com

courtesy of mechwarrior.com

As for why PGI decided to go with stock ‘Mechs, it seems likely to do with the upcoming release of their latest game, MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries. Much like Harebrained’s BattleTech, MW5 is set to take place before the Clan Invasion around the year 3025. By showing off competitive players in ‘Mechs that will likely be found in MW5, PGI turns the tournament into a publicity stunt for their game’s release.

The tournament begins on June 21st, which gives competitive teams a few weeks to look over the approved ‘Mechs and see what might work in an 8v8 competition.

This will surely be a MechWarrior Online World Championship unlike any other. We’re certain to see some new faces and maybe even some new strategies thanks to this restriction.

Or it might turn out to be a boring fight between Wolfhounds, Grasshoppers, and Crabs. We won’t know for sure until later in June.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

BattleTech Devs Talk About Making Game On A Budget

courtesy of Harebrained Schemes

courtesy of Harebrained Schemes

In our continuing coverage of BattleTech, for which I’d say I’m roughly 2/3rds of the way through (got some Highlanders, still need to find my first BattleMaster!), the developers of the game sat down with Gamasutra to talk about building a fantastic game on a limited budget. The boys, girls, and gender non-conformists over at Harebrained sure do make it look easy, but it turns out it was anything but!

As explained by Mitch Gitelman and game director Michael McCain, there originally were plans to have a lot more multiplayer in the game that was eventually shipped. “We planned to do leagues and tournaments, the Solaris 7 setting and stuff like that,” said Gitelman, but admitted that cash constraints and BattleTech’s reliance on randomness sort of made league competition against the spirit of the game.

Rather than try to set up bracketed tournaments where luck played nearly as large a role as skill, they backed away from that and ensured the game could be played casually amongst friends. Friends that hopefully understand that a spread of LRMs can just as easily hit every one of a ‘Mech’s components or all somehow manage to zero in on its right leg and shear it off at the hip.

Another point made by Gitelman was the importance of the first two hours of any game. Steam accepts free refunds of games so long as it hasn’t been played for two hours, so it’s supremely important to ensure the player is hooked in that amount of time. That’s where McCain came in to explain that the opening tutorial and story mission were iteratively improved over many, many drafts.

“We spent a lot of time on the opening,” said McCain. “And most of it was cutting! I don’t mean that we ran out of time, it’s editing. Those first couple of missions, they were way too long, or too narratively complex, to try to land the hook of our story. I hope it works now!”

Personally, I would’ve gone with a different ‘Mech than the Blackjack, but we’re a little limited in the low-tonnage medium ‘Mech category, and I certainly didn’t want a Cicada.

“You’re testing with a dozen people and they’re carefully curated. And who they are matters at that point.”

Honestly, I think the opening is great. The cutscenes also display a unique art style that really sets it apart from the rest of the gameplay and somehow emphasizes the gravity of the overarching political machinations that are always afoot. Even though this is the Periphery, it still feels just as grand as any of the power plays made by the Great Houses.

Finally, it came to beta testing. Testing out the game engine and multiplayer aspects were something that Harebrained managed via the Kickstarter process and surely gave them a lot of valuable info, but the campaign was something that needed faster (and above all, cheaper) refinement than a massive open beta could offer.

McCain reveals that BattleTech’s campaign was tested in-house and with a select group of outside testers. At that point, the beta test is no longer the statistical grind that happens with larger developers, and the people selected have enormous power to sway the direction the game goes.

“You’re testing with a dozen people and they’re carefully curated. And who they are matters at that point.”

In a larger test and a statistical method, you can just let the math do the talking. But, as Gitelman explains, that’s a lot tougher when there are only a dozen testers. “One of the things that often happens with playtesting, if you’re not careful, is you’re looking for the loudest voices, or the largest number of people all saying the same thing, rather than looking for what’s really going on behind what they’re saying.”

Lucky for us it seems that Harebrained’s relationship with their testers is a good one, and seems to be representative of the larger BattleTech audience. I haven’t really heard any complaints on the story at all, with most of them limited to technical issues that get further ironed out every day.

It’s definitely interesting to get the industry-side take on making games, and I encourage you all to read it all first hand over at Gamasutra. As for me, I’m getting back to BattleTech on my seemingly endless quest to find a BattleMaster. At this point, I’d settle for a Banshee.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupyPS: I FINALLY GOT ONE!

Harmony Gold vs. BattleTech – An Actual Lawyer Weighs In

courtesy of marcomazzoni.dunked.com

courtesy of marcomazzoni.dunked.com

There’s been a lot of speculation on the Harmony Gold v. BattleTech lawsuit, and I’m sorry to say some of that speculation may have come from this very publication. Previous articles from yours truly may have made it seem like the ongoing lawsuit is on its last legs and that we were all moments away from our triumphant victory.

That may have been more wishful thinking on my part, as it turns out. But, rather than me preface every article with the now-standard “I’m not a lawyer, but”, we’ve reached out to an ACTUAL lawyer to get his professional two cents.

Let me introduce you all to Robert Spendlove, an intellectual property lawyer and partner at the law firm of Laubscher, Spendlove & Laubscher. In his own words, Robert “has worked extensively in the gaming and toy industry, for and against such companies as Nintendo, Zuru, Disney, Turbine, and Sony.”

But more importantly, Robert is also a huge BattleTech nerd with over thirty years of losing countless hours to various iterations of the franchise on either tabletop or personal computer. This guy knows two things: BattleTech and IP law, and he’s also pretty damned good at explaining the two.

So good, in fact, that he wrote a big long essay on the current state of the lawsuit that I just couldn’t bear to slice and condense. Thus, to correct my own mistakes and give us all a unique insight into what’s going on, I present to you Robert’s take. Enjoy! Continue reading

BattleTech Dev Reveals Future Of The Game

courtesy of Harebrained Schemes

courtesy of Harebrained Schemes

BattleTech is a hit. We know that for certain because a Harebrained Schemes developer did an AMA on the BattleTech subreddit. He was also kind enough to give us an inside look at what’s in store for the future of the best-darned BattleTech game to hit our collective hard drives since MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries.

Your favorite BattleTech game might be different than mine, but remember: you’re wrong. 

The AMA was hosted by Tyler Carpenter, an HBS game designer and writer that had a huge hand in the making of BattleTech as well as a bunch of other Harebrained titles. Among the hundreds of questions answered quite a few of them were pertinent to just where HBS plans on taking BattleTech in the future and keep this still very young game alive for a very long time.

First off, HBS is going to be holding meetings soon to discuss internally what kind of expansions BattleTech will get. When I say the word “expansions” I’m talking about both paid and free DLC. What that’ll look like is still anybody’s guess, but marching the timeline forward into the 3030’s era and the Fourth Succession War would make a lot of sense to me.             

Or, y’know, we could just hike it all the way to the 3040s and do the Clan Invasion. I’m sure nobody would complain about that.

As for free DLC, Tyler mentioned they’re looking into expanding the types of missions you’ll find as random contracts to better include different encounter types. There will also be an additional emphasis on non-combat roles so that light and medium ‘Mechs might have more usefulness into the late game.

Another addition discussed would involve “broader systemic gameplay, recurring enemies with grudges, contracts that aren’t what they seem, and ‘unexpected events’ in battles” to make the world seem even more alive and fluctuating than it already is. This also includes more random ship events to keep things interesting on the long transits between contracts.

Technical improvements are at the top of the list for Harebrained in terms of game development. Things have gotten a lot better since release day, but there are definite performance gains to be had, especially on older systems. Ultra-widescreen compatibility issues are also at the top of the list as the technology becomes more widespread.

Although I personally enjoy it every time my ‘Mechs slowly marches forward with guns blazing, I admit that it may eventually become tiresome. For that day, Tyler said that HBS is working on general ways of speeding up the game so that we don’t have to wait for the animations to complete every single time.

Greater control of the game’s variables is also being looked into in the form of a giant menu that will allow the player to fiddle with the game’s mechanics. Imagine a bigger early-game ‘Mech selection or a much more frequent incidence of random encounters. Or just the ability to dial the difficulty of the game up to eleven. The replay value here is enormous.

Of course, we can expect more ‘Mechs to get into the game, but he was mum as to just which ones are in development.

There are a few more specific game mechanics that are being looked into, such as the Juggernaut skill being a little too powerful, and the Lostech weapons are likely to get more powerful after a weapons balance pass. Additional technical aspects, such as Linux support and localization for sale in other countries are also being looked into.

There’s tons more that Tyler also discussed, and you can get a good prospectus from a handy post that summarized the whole thing (thanks Aries37!). The one thing that we can take away here is that BattleTech is a solid success and that Harebrained has made sure their baby can crawl, but pretty soon she’s going to run.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy